Muskoka delivers the best of summer on its golf courses and lakes north of Toronto

By Travel ArticlesOctober 19, 2012, 4:00 am

BAYSVILLE, Ontario, Canada -- The sign simply reads 'Tranquility' with an arrow pointing toward a right turn.

It's located on Old Highway 117, the long, winding road around the Lake of Bays that leads to Bigwin Island Golf Club. Don't bother following that sign to find what you seek. Tranquility is everywhere in Muskoka, the cottage country destination two hours north of Toronto.

Muskoka is home to 1,600 lakes -- big and small -- and, most important to golfers, some of the best courses in Canada. With more than 20 golf courses, Muskoka states a strong case as the best golf destination in Canada. No other region boasts as many ScoreGolf top 100 golf courses open to the public as Muskoka.

Muskoka Bay Club (at No. 9) leads the way, followed by Rocky Crest Golf Club (No. 27), Bigwin Island (No. 28, open to public play in spring and fall), Taboo Golf Club (No. 41) and the Highlands Course at Deehurst Resort (No. 58). The Ridge at Manitou Golf Club (No. 64) isn't far away.

Endless water activities -- boating, fishing, canoeing, swimming, skiing and more -- make Muskoka an ideal summer retreat. National Geographic Traveler named Muskoka one of the 'Best of the World' places for 2012.

'Muskoka, it is one of the best golf destinations in the world,' said Mark DeActis, the co-general manager and director of golf at Windermere Golf & Country Club, the oldest course in Muskoka. 'I've been to the Canadian Rockies. Nothing compares to what we have to offer. The (marketing) statement is true, 'Once discovered, never forgotten.' '

Brian McElwain, a Windermere member who lives on Lake Rosseau, describes Muskoka as 'heaven on earth.' As a local realtor, McElwain, the former president of the Muskoka Lakes Association, might seem to be just tossing out another sales pitch. After a week touring Muskoka earlier this fall, I must admit I'm buying it.

Where to play golf in Muskoka

Players must first be warned about Muskoka golf. It's not for the swing challenged.

The Canadian Shield adds several element of trouble -- rock outcroppings and soaring elevation changes -- to all those bunkers, trees, lakes, ponds and marshes.

The older golf courses in Muskoka tend to avoid all that granite. No rocks come into play on the classic parkland setting at Windermere, which dates to 1920. Meanwhile, the Highlands and Lakeside courses at Deerhurst Resort -- both built or redesigned in the early 1990s by Canadian Thomas McBroom -- use the formations only a handful of times to frame holes, like the wonderful par-4 11th hole on the Highlands Course.

The newer and bolder designs at Muskoka Bay Club, The Rock Golf Club and Taboo -- all opened in the past decade -- incorporate the rocks into lines of play. These unforgiving hurdles must be negotiated with risk-reward shots over or around them. It's target golf at its most scenic, but also at its most difficult.

The Rock is a perfect example how challenging it is to balance playability with such demanding landscapes. Original architect Nick Faldo returned just three years after its 2004 debut to blast rock and reroute holes. Even with all this extra effort and its serene setting, The Rock still gets a 'too tough' label by many locals. 'Bring 12 used balls,' one told me. Like any course, if you play the proper tees and get to know the layout intimately, playing The Rock can be an enjoyable round.

Taboo, designed in 2002 by Ron Garl, and Muskoka Bay, a pure playground designed by Doug Carrick in 2007, tend to get higher marks for how the rock makes cameo appearances but doesn't steal the show from the lush green fairways and greens cut through the forest.

The latest addition is Oak Bay Golf & Country Club along the shores of the Severn Sound of the Georgian Bay. Shawn Watters transformed the nine-hole Sunnylea Golf Course into a strong 18-hole test with great par 3s.

The best golf 'experience' might come at Bigwin Island, located on a 700-acre island in the middle of the Lake of Bays. From the five-minute boat ride across the water to a round on the eye-popping Carrick course carved from a shuttered Stanley Thompson design, Bigwin Island delivers a dramatic day, climaxing with the view off the 18th tee, one of the premier perches in all of North American golf.

For those who can't pay the big greens fees associated with Muskoka's best golf courses, there are plenty of fine tracks at a lower cost, notably the 6,252-yard North Granite Ridge Golf Club, the 6,024-yard Muskoka Highlands, the 27-hole Lake St. George Golf Club, the 6,566-yard Huntsville Downs Golf & Country Club and the nine-hole Diamond In The Ruff.

Muskoka lodging

Where to stay depends upon where you'll play. Deerhurst Resort, dating to 1896 in Huntsville, has been re-energized over the past two years, serving as the host of the G8 Summit in 2010. Skyline Hotels & Resorts purchased the property in 2011 and immediately upgraded rooms and suites of the Summitt Lodges. Skyline was recently approved to build a five-story, 173-unit development on Peninsula Lake with a swimming pool, barbecue area, gazebos and other amenities to replace the older lakeside lodge, home to the resort's iconic music shows where Shania Twain was discovered in the 1990s.

Deerhurst caters to all ages and whims. Children will love the water toys at the beach and the adventurous excursions like treetop trekking, mountain biking, horseback riding, paintball, or driving a Hummer, a race car or an off-road rock buggy. The Shizen Spa provides stress relief indoors from all that outdoor overexertion. The menus of the fine-dining Eclipse in the main building and Steamers in the Highlands Course clubhouse will delight even the most jaded palates.

Gravenhurst, a quaint town sandwiched between Lake Muskoka and Gull Lake south of Huntsville, boasts a unique mix of accommodations. Golfers have their choice of staying in one of Muskoka Bay Club's luxury villas, the very nice Residence Inn Marriott on the Gravenhurst Muskoka Wharf or at Taboo, a waterfront resort with fine dining and a spa.

Tiny Minett offers two distinct options right down the road from The Rock. Clevelands House caters to families best with cute little cabins just steps from the shores of Lake Rosseau, but golfers will sleep well there, too. The Rosseau Muskoka Resort & Spa, the first JW Marriott resort in Ontario, packs more wow factor with its modern luxurious feel, but Clevelands House wins hands down for value.

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Garcia bounced in Austin: 'On to Augusta'

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 6:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – For the 16th time in his career, Sergio Garcia’s week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play ended earlier then he would have hoped, but this time he has plenty of distractions to ease the sting.

Garcia lost his Saturday morning match to Kyle Stanley, 3 and 1, marking the 15th time in his Match Play career he’s failed to advance to Sunday, but at least he has plenty to keep him busy with a newborn at home and his return to the Masters looming in two weeks.

“On to Augusta,” said Garcia, who is not playing next week’s Houston Open. “It's exciting. Obviously when we get there, it's going to be interesting to see how we feel and everything. But it is definitely exciting.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Garcia defeated Justin Rose in a playoff to win last year’s Masters, his first major triumph, so his return to Augusta National will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

His duties as defending champion will include hosting Tuesday’s Champions Dinner. No word on Garcia’s menu for the event, but various sources have confirmed it will be something “Spanish.”

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Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Sweet 16

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:

Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.

Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.

Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.

Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.

Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.

Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.

Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.

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JT advances to quarters, closing in on No. 1 ranking

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Justin Thomas continued his impressive run at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and finds himself another step closer to overtaking Dustin Johnson in the World Golf Ranking.

Thomas rolled past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the first knockout stage and will face Kyle Stanley in the Elite Eight. He must advance to Sunday’s championship match to overtake Johnson as the new world No. 1.

“It wasn't anything crazy or special. Just played solid golf tee to green. And it was forcing him to make a lot of putts,” said Thomas, who has played 61 holes this week, won 24, lost six and hasn’t trailed in four matches.

Stanley, who needed a playoff victory over Paul Casey on Friday to advance to the weekend, defeated Sergio Garcia, 3 and 1.

Bubba Watson also continued his solid play, rallying from an early deficit to beat Brian Harman, 2 and 1. He will play Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who defeated Charles Howell III, closing with back-to-back birdies for a 1-up victory.

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But as impressive as Thomas has been, Sweden’s Alex Noren has quietly continued to impress, going undefeated in pool play and closing out Patrick Reed on the 15th hole for a 5-and-3 victory.

“He's such a tough competitor,” said Noren, who will face Australian Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals. “I managed to hole a few birdie putts. When we both had good chances, he just missed and I managed to make those.”

Former Match Play champion Ian Poulter also advanced with a 2-and-1 victory over Louis Oosthuizen. He will play Kevin Kisner, who converted a 10-foot putt at the 18th hole to defeat Matt Kuchar, 1 up.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”